After her mother dies in an accident, sixteen-year-old Bree Matthews wants nothing to do with her family memories or childhood home. A residential program for bright high schoolers at UNC–Chapel Hill seems like the perfect escape—until Bree witnesses a magical attack her very first night on campus.
A flying demon feeding on human energies.
A secret society of so called “Legendborn” students that hunt the creatures down.
And a mysterious teenage mage who calls himself a “Merlin” and who attempts—and fails—to wipe Bree’s memory of everything she saw.
The mage’s failure unlocks Bree’s own unique magic and a buried memory with a hidden connection: the night her mother died, another Merlin was at the hospital. Now that Bree knows there’s more to her mother’s death than what’s on the police report, she’ll do whatever it takes to find out the truth, even if that means infiltrating the Legendborn as one of their initiates.
She recruits Nick, a self-exiled Legendborn with his own grudge against the group, and their reluctant partnership pulls them deeper into the society’s secrets—and closer to each other. But when the Legendborn reveal themselves as the descendants of King Arthur’s knights and explain that a magical war is coming, Bree has to decide how far she’ll go for the truth and whether she should use her magic to take the society down—or join the fight.
Legendborn is an absolute gem of a book, at once a revival and reinvention of Arthurian legend entwined with a compelling and deeply touching portrait of grief and generational trauma. I honestly can’t get over how incredible this book is and how Tracy Deonn has so skilfully woven together the lore and magical elements with real life moments making for a truly powerful Y/A fantasy which is truly incomparable.
There’s a lot I love about this book, and I just know that my review won’t even be able to do it justice but I’ll certainly try! One thing I really enjoyed was how Deonn reinvents and revives the legend of King Arthur and the whole ‘once and future king’ line specifically. At first there were a lot of terms to get used to but it’s pretty easy to get into if you’re already somewhat familiar with Arthurian legend and / or like me was utterly obsessed with Merlin on the BBC. I liked how the whole ‘secret society’ was a front for the Legendborn and how the hierarchy – problematic as it is- was explained. Also little easter egg? kinda? Sels middle name is Emrys which any Arthurian legend nerd knows means ‘immortal’ in Welsh, with Wales being one of the possible places the legend originated.
One of the most striking things about this novel has to be the way Deonn hasn’t shied away for even a second about the realities of our world and the pervasive Anti-Blackness, colonialism and violence that is rooted in US history from it’s inception. This also operates on a number of layers, from the real world element to the way white supremacy and exploitation is also woven into the Round table / Legendborn society and how the privileged members have maintained this upper hand through any means possible. Deonn also depicts the ways in which those in power have systematically and consistently erased and dictated whose history is remembered – there’s a particularly powerful moment where Bree realises she can’t trace her family tree back further than a few generations and how she mourns this loss touched me to my core. I think this sort of exploration is SO vital, and Deonn has portrayed these complex issues so well.
Right from the start I was so attached to Bree – she’s a young person who has just lost her mother tragically early and carries so much guilt and shame from events leading up to this. I felt for her so much and I loved how Deonn portrayed Bree’s journey of grief, in how messy and tough and non linear it was. I felt like this was so true to life and knowing it comes from the authors own lived experience losing her own mother, made this resonate even more profoundly. There’s so much pain here, but also such a beautiful and hopeful message once Bree learns that she needs to make her life about the love they shared and not the loss, as difficult as it is. I also think the ways in which Bree was able to connect with her ancestors, especially the women in her maternal line was clearly so healing and fulfilling and such a warming moment.
Speaking of Bree, I quite enjoyed how Deonn uses the ‘chosen one’ trope in different ways and I freaking LOVED where Bree ends up at the conclusion of the novel. I really don’t want to spoil it for anyone who wants to read this book but damn, Tracy Deonn really did that! I enjoyed the development of Bree’s powers and how she came into her own steadily and learnt to trust herself and her moral compass. I also relished the fact that Bree consistently proved those who undermined and underestimated her wrong.
I can’t finish this review without mentioning the relationships in this book and how great they are. I loved the bond and banter between Bree and Alice – lifelong best friends who now find themselves in an early college placement together – and how despite some disagreements, their bond is clearly unbreakable. I was invested in the romance between Bree and Nick to a lesser degree as it felt a tad insta lovey to me but it was still cute and this ‘instant connection’ is explained in a plausible way so take from that what you will. I’ve realised that I suffer from second love interest syndrome and this was definitely the case here too, I thought Bree and Sel were so much more suited and I just know the angst will continue.
Overall, Legendborn is a truly memorable read and I can’t wait till the next book already, I need it in my life asap. I would definitely recommend this book to readers who enjoy classic legends especially of the Arthurian variety retold and revived with powerful social commentary and characters to get invested in. Seriously guys, go read this book, it’s just SO good, I can’t state that enough!
Have you read Legendborn, if so what did you think? Are there any other Arthurian legend retellings I should be reading? Let me know in the comments!
Until next time,